I just got through reading Todd Purdum’s nearly 10,000-word Vanity Fair piece on Sarah Palin, and the most frustrating thing about it is that it doesn’t break any new ground on a woman who has been scrutinized more heavily over the last ten months than any politician other than President Obama. Sure, there are a few gossipy nuggets, such as the fact that candidate Obama “believed Palin would never have time to get up to speed. He told his aides that it had taken him four months to learn how to be a national candidate, and added, ‘I don’t care how talented she is, this is really a leap.'” There are also a lot of anonymous complaints from former McCain campaign staffers, the gist of which we’ve already heard at one time or another.
The rest of the piece is mainly a rehash of everything we’ve been reading for months:
Whatever her political future, the emergence of Sarah Palin raises questions that will not soon go away. What does it say about the nature of modern American politics that a public official who often seems proud of what she does not know is not only accepted but applauded? What does her prominence say about the importance of having (or lacking) a record of achievement in public life? Why did so many skilled veterans of the Republican Party–long regarded as the more adroit team in presidential politics–keep loyally working for her election even after they privately realized she was casual about the truth and totally unfit for the vice-presidency? Perhaps most painful, how could John McCain, one of the cagiest survivors in contemporary politics–with a fine appreciation of life’s injustices and absurdities, a love for the sweep of history, and an overdeveloped sense of his own integrity and honor–ever have picked a person whose utter shortage of qualification for her proposed job all but disqualified him for his?
I happen to believe Palin deserves neither to be vilified nor made into a heroine. I always thought the instant comparisons to Reagan by conservatives after her convention speech went overboard, as did the demonization of her by the left. Every treatment of her ever since has followed the same sort of pattern — uncritical adoration by her supporters, followed by vilification, followed by over the top defenses.
Purdum had the time and magazine space to break this cycle and deliver a more nuanced portrait of Palin. At one point of the article, recounting her surprising victory in the Alaska governor’s race, Purdum wrote, “Palin’s victory that November was one of the flukiest successes in modern American politics. Rebecca Braun, the publisher of the Alaska Budget Report, a respected nonpartisan newsletter, describes the result as something ‘far beyond anything you could explain in terms of intellect or training.'”
Well, it might have made for an interesting article if Purdum explored the mystery of how “the flukiest successes in modern American politics” came to be, or more broadly, described the political talents Palin actually displayed over the course of her apparently inexplicable rise. Instead, we just get a recycled hit piece that is sure to reignite the worst aspects of the Palin wars.
UPDATE: Alex Massie offers some worthwhile thoughts, noting, “The shame of Paln’s emergence last year isn’t that she blundered so badly, it’s that there was something there but that, after her convention speech, that something was lost in the tumult that engulfed her and, in the end, helped destroy the McCain campaign.”